New Year’s Eve: What does Auld Lang Syne Actually Mean?

Every year, on New Year’s Eve, people all around the world sing a few lines in Scots which most people don’t understand. Those lines are:

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought tae mind. Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and the days of auld lang syne.”

I bet you always wondered what that even means. Well, I’m about to tell you.

The phrase Auld Lang Syne is in Scots. Now, Scots is a language which is very similar to English but is different enough to confuse people who aren’t familiar with it. It evolved at the same time as English did and was the main language of the Scottish lowlands for a long time. It is still spoken there today.

Many people think that Scots is just a weird accent that makes English hard to understand, but it is actually a language in its own right with similar roots to English. Scotland’s most famous poet, Robert Burns, wrote his poetry in Scots. He also wrote Auld Lang Syne. Here is a link to Dougie MacLean singing it, in case you’ve never heard the whole song:

Auld Lang Syne can be directly translated as “old long since”. It is equivalent to the English expression “Good ‘ol days”. The song is being sung to an old friend. In the middle verses Burns fondly reminisces over the good ‘ol days spent with this dear friend. They used to run around on the hills but now their feet are weary from the roads they’ve traveled since then. They used to paddle their little boat along the shore but now the ocean’s giant waves lay between them.

At the end of the song Burns gives a toast to the good ‘ol days and his friend who he is happy to be reunited with. He takes him by the hand and drinks in honour of those days long since.

On New Year’s Eve, we all sing this song in honour of the year which has passed. It is a farewell to what was, as we embark on a new journey.

So, my friends, this New Year’s Eve, raise your glass and say a toast with me in honour of the days long since.

Happy New Year’s!

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